Larry Clark is back for his fifth theatrical film, and he’s just as creepy and borderline pedophilic as ever!
Clark burst onto the scene in 1995 with “Kids,” a disturbing, occasionally exploitative examination of teenage amorality. “Bully” (2001) focused on kids’ violent streaks, and “Ken Park” — made just after “Bully” but never actually released in the U.S. — was more docudrama-style sex and violence starring non-actor teenagers.
“Wassup Rockers” continues to be a Larry Clark Film in every way, this time dealing with a group of seven South Central L.A. boys, ages 13-16, all Hispanic and in the throes of puberty: a little acne, some ill-proportioned features, and those greasy half-mustaches adolescent boys get that make them look, as Billy Crystal once put it, like half the women in New Jersey.
The boys spend their afternoons on skateboards, their shaggy haircuts and too-tight jeans helping them look the part. They want to be punk-rock stars, too, and have formed a crappy thrash band that rehearses wherever it can find space.
Jonathan (Jonathan Velasquez) is the lead singer and the film’s protagonist. It is mostly through his eyes that we see the 24 hours that the movie comprises. There are seven boys now, but there used to be eight, before Arturo was killed in a drive-by shooting. By the end of the film, the group has grown even smaller.
The film begins without much plot, even letting Jonathan give a documentary-style interview about his friends. Gradually a plot develops, though, with the group taking a bus to Beverly Hills to ride their skateboards in a nice park. After being harassed by a racist cop, the boys endure a Dickens-style nightmare as they struggle to find their way back home, wandering through a backyard party hosted by a predatory gay photographer and meeting up with a couple of rich white high school girls who find Jonathan and Kiko (Francisco Pedrasa) attractive.
Jonathan and his white girl, Jade (Laura Cellner), have off-screen sex — sex is always on the minds of these boys — while Kiko and Nikki (Jessica Steinbaum) talk. Their conversation is the film’s most affecting scene. It’s natural and honest, the sort of talk two real teenagers would have.
The rest of the movie often looks realistic (with handheld cameras and non-professional actors) but still seems artificial, with useless platitudes about racism and the class struggle mixed with the randy teenagers’ raucous everyday chatter. Clark films them skating a lot — A LOT — and mostly just lets them be themselves, which is good when the kids are natural-born actors and not so good when they clearly should keep their day jobs.
“Wassup Rockers” isn’t as blatantly exploitative than Clark’s previous films have been, with no on-screen sex and very little underage nudity. There’s still something vaguely unsettling about what he does, however, though he claims to have his young actors’ best interests in mind. As it happens, this film is neither controversial nor interesting enough to warrant much attention either way.
C+ (1 hr., 51 min.; )